FamilyLife Today®

Rising Above Victimhood

with Jim Daly | June 3, 2008
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What man might intend for evil, God intends for good. Like Joseph, this could be said about the life of Jim Daly, today’s broadcast guest. Jim, who is president of Focus on the Family, recalls the death of his mother when he was only nine, and the terrifying events that unfolded after the funeral when he and his siblings realized that their stepfather was abandoning them forever. Today on the broadcast, find out how they survived.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Guest

  • What man might intend for evil, God intends for good. Like Joseph, this could be said about the life of Jim Daly, today’s broadcast guest. Jim, who is president of Focus on the Family, recalls the death of his mother when he was only nine, and the terrifying events that unfolded after the funeral when he and his siblings realized that their stepfather was abandoning them forever. Today on the broadcast, find out how they survived.

What man might intend for evil, God intends for good.

Rising Above Victimhood

With Jim Daly
June 03, 2008
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Bob Jim Daly's mother died when he was nine years old.  His stepfather, Hank, did not attend the funeral, but that day, the day of the funeral, when Jim arrived home with his brothers and his sisters, they all learned that their world was changing even more than they realized.

Jim: Hank comes out of the back bedroom, bags packed, one in each hand, and he said, "I can't take this pressure.  I've got to leave.  I'm moving back to San Francisco."  He didn't hug us.  That was, literally, all he said, and he walked out the front door, got into a cab that was on the curb.  We hadn't noticed it.  And he jumped into that cab, and all five of us just pressed our faces to the glass and watched that cab drive away.

[musical transition "Raise It Up"]

Bob This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, June 3rd.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  By the time he was nine years old, Jim Daly's biological father had left him, his mother had died, and now his stepfather was walking away.  We'll hear the details of his compelling childhood story today.  Stay tuned.

[musical transition "Raise It Up"]

Bob And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us.  You know, there are sometimes when I'll sit down with somebody, and we're trying to unpack something that's going on in their life, and I hear a little bit about their story, about their background, and I think to myself, "Well, okay that explains it a little bit," you know what I mean?  You just know that how things got the way they were.

With our guest today, when you hear about his background, you go, "Well, how did you get to where you are?"

Dennis: Exactly, and it is a great story of what you might say what men intended for evil, God used for good.  Jim Daly, who is the CEO and president of Focus on the Family joins us again.  Jim, welcome back.

Jim:  Good to be with you.

Dennis: Jim is the father of two and the husband of one, and his story is a courageous story of finding home, which is the name of his book.  Jim, just around what Bob was talking about there – I keep wanting to revisit this theme of being a victim, because I've talked to several people in the financial area, and they've talked about how many young couples today don't pay their bills on time and run up credit card debt and then claim bankruptcy, and it's always somebody else's fault.

Was there something that occurred in your life, do you think, that gave you the message that you aren't that victim and that God really does have certain expectations of you as His child that made a difference in your life?

Jim: You know, again, I think the lessons of my mom helped tremendously to build the character of fortitude – just to keep pressing ahead.  He sense of humor – we'd wake up days without food, I mean, literally, we'd have a few Cheerios, and we'd pour Kool-Aid for milk over them.  And my mom would make a joke about it and say, "Well, we're too fat, anyway."  I mean, just something …

Dennis: So she wouldn't let you be a victim.

Jim: No, she really inspired us to just put your left foot in front of your right foot, and I think, when I accepted the Lord at 15, what happened at that point is He galvanized that sensibility, that appropriateness, that that's what it's about, it's not about wallowing in your circumstances.

You know what?  I mean, really, Dennis, think about the Christian church.  We cannot let our circumstances dictate our joy, and I think in America, unfortunately, we do far too much of that.  I've had the privilege with Focus to travel the world – Indonesia, places I'm sure you've been as well – where you see these poor children playing in this dirty water, but they've got the most gorgeous smiles on their faces.  They have nothing, but they have some kind of joy that is much more than money.

Dennis: But speaking of circumstances, some of those that you faced – those could damage a child for good.  I mean, you mentioned your parents' divorce, you were raised by a single-parent mom, and she remarried a stepfather who was anything but a loving stepfather.  You call him "Hank the Tank" in the book, and he was not dependable and completely kind of hid your mom from you, and then, for all practical purposes, you became an orphan when your mom died.

I mean, those things can really imprint a boy's soul.  I want you to take us to a time when you came back from your mother's funeral – I mean, here, you and your brothers and sisters had been there, I mean, it had to be a time of great agony, and you'd think you'd come back to the home being a place of stability and security, but it was anything other than that, wasn't it?

Jim: Yeah.  We jump into the car, and we go back to the house – all the furniture is gone.  We're thinking, "What going on here?"  Hank comes out of the back bedroom, bags packed, one in each hand, and he said, "I can't take this pressure.  I've got to leave.  I'm moving back to San Francisco."  He didn't hug us.  That was, literally, all he said, and he walked out the front door, got into a cab that was on the curb – we hadn't noticed it – and he jumped in that cab, and all five of us just pressed our faces to the glass and watched that cab drive away.

Dennis: Ages nine to 19.

Jim: Nine to 19 – my brother, Mike, was in the Navy and two hours later he had to go to his ship.  They were going off to Vietnam. 

Bob Had Hank taken the furniture for himself?

Jim: Hank had sold all the furniture, which happened to be our furniture.

Bob And kept the money?

Jim: Kept the money and decided he was going to leave.

Bob So your 19-year-old brother heads out to his ship, the rest of you are in an empty house with no money?

Jim: Correct, yeah.  Dave, my 17-year-old brother; Kim, 16; Dee, 15; and myself, 9.  And we're laying in that living room in Long Beach, California, just covering ourselves with the clothes we had.  Fortunately, Hank had left a box of clothes for each of us, and we used those for pillows and blankets that night.

We woke up the next morning …

Dennis: No, no, wait a second.

Jim: Yeah?

Dennis: What were you thinking?  What were you feeling?

Jim: I was fearful.  I was just – I didn't know what was going to happen.  I mean, literally, the day before, I was this spoiled brat who liked to get GI Joe toys, and the next morning …

Dennis: Mom's gone.

Jim: My mom's gone, and I'm just an entirely different kid.  I'm a grownup now.  I feel it.  I feel like it's all real now.  There's no games in this.  This is for real.

Dennis: There's no mom there to …

Jim: No mom, no dad …

Dennis: … to make light of what's happening.  What was the conversation like that evening?  Do you recall there, in the living room?

Jim: Oh, just numb, fearful.  We're trying to figure out what was happening.  I was just observing it, because Mike had to leave.  I still love my brother, Mike.  He was kind of my rock – six-foot-five, played football, he was my guy; the guy that I always aspired to want to be.  And for him, two hours after Hank walked out of the house, he just hugged me and said, "Sorry, Jimmy, I've got to get back to my ship.  We're going off to Vietnam tomorrow."  He just walked out the door, and there I was with Dave, and, you know, we're just trying to figure out what are we going to do?  What are we going to do?

And Dave said, "I know a family.  I think they'll take us in," and he made that phone call the next morning, and that was the beginning of a bizarre ordeal.

Dennis: Was there any discussion about the family – let's go there, let's not go there, let's think about another family?

Jim: No, that was the only option we had.  I mean, that, really, was it.  And Dave called them, and they said, "No, that would be great, we'd love to do that," and I – you know, I think that motivation was true, and I appreciated that.  But they were living on this five-acre ranch out in Morongo Valley.  He was on disability.  They had vegetables and chickens and goats, and they just tried to get by, and I think, in the end, it was really more about the foster care check, about the money.

Dennis: So what was school like the next day for you?

Jim: Well, it took me a couple of weeks to get into that groove, to get into school, but the next day we drove out from Long Beach, California, to Morongo Valley; showed up at the Real's house.  Now, you've got to remember – I think the Lord has a sense of humor here, because the Hopes led my mom to the Lord, the Hope family, and then we move out to the Real family.  And the Real family – I mean this was – if we were dysfunctional, I mean, they were right behind us.  And they had their issues, as well, and they had four sons, and their 18-year-old son that year married his 42-year-old cousin.

Bob Ho!

Jim: Even being a nine-year-old from Long Beach, I thought that was a little strange.

Dennis: Hold it, run that by one more time – she was how old?

Jim: She was 42, and he was 18, and they got married later that year.  I thought that was a little odd.

Bob Wow, yeah.

Jim: But, you know, then there was my brother's friend, Paul, Paul Real, and then Gary was 15, he was struggling with homosexuality, and Markie was 8, and this kid just couldn't tell the truth.  He'd steal things – my little box of stuff, I had one box, and he'd take things from me and put them in his drawer, and I'd go to his mom and dad, "Mr. and Mrs. Real, Markie's taking this," and they'd say, "Oh, Jimmy, you're not fitting in with our family.  Markie wouldn't take that."  And it was just odd.  It was surreal.  It was like nobody believed me.  I was – ahhhh, it was just amazing.

Bob How long were you with the sur-Real family?

Jim: Well, one year total.  Six months into this, though, the social worker comes out for her first visit, we're sitting at the table, my brother, Dave, the social worker, and I, and she looked at me, and she said, "Jimmy, we have a problem."  And I thought, "Finally, an adult that understands it."  And she said, "No, Mr. Real said you tried to kill him."  I was, like, "What?  I'm 10 years old – I just had my 10th birthday."  And she said, "Well, something is wrong," and she had a little smile on her face.  "He said you tried to push him off a cliff," and we lived out in the middle of the desert.

And he was beginning to go senile, and he just focused all that attention on me.  My brother, Dave, a couple of summers ago, he reminded me that Mr. Real used to – he was so paranoid of me, he would sneak out of the house and sleep in the rabbit hutch because he thought I was going to try to kill him in the middle of the night – honestly, you're looking me, like, did you?  No, I didn't try to kill him.

Dennis: No, I was not looking at you like that, Jim, I'm just kind of astounded at the story.

Jim: I mean, I was just sitting there that day, thinking, "What else could happen?"  I mean, this is bizarre.  Here, Mr. Real thinks me, as a 10-year-old, I'm trying to kill him?

Dennis: Well, you think of a 10-year-old, he has to have some normals in his life, and the abnormal was the normal for you.

Jim: Yeah, I just remember going to school, elementary school, Mr. Todd's class, and I would just sit in that class and emotionally overrun, and I would get up in the middle of class, while he's talking, and he let me go, to his credit – and I would walk out of that class, sit on a sandhill at Morongo Valley Elementary School and just cry.  I would just cry for an hour.

Dennis: When did you actually cry about your mother's death?

Jim: I had cried for my mother's death from day one.  I mean, I think, in the middle of the night, I just would sob because I missed her so much.  It's my dad that it took years for me to get a grip on that loss.

Bob Did you ever think, when you were living out in the Morongo Valley, "I've got to get outta here.  I've got to go somewhere where life has more sense than it has here?"

Jim: To run away, it was not an option at 10.  I felt that would not be a wise move.

Bob Your sister had run away.

Jim: She did.  Kim did run away several times, and got married at 16, and – but it just didn't seem like the best thing to do, and so I was just there with the Real family.  I was a wallflower.  I'd come home from school and just go out and play.  I'd play until nightfall and then come in and eat some very measly dinner.  Every day for breakfast we had hot cocoa and toast.  That was breakfast at the Reals.  Even though they had all these chickens that had laid these eggs, we never had an egg at the Reals.  I think they used them to barter for butter and other things.  So every morning – hot cocoa and toast.

Dennis: We all cope with life in different ways.  How did you other brothers and sisters cope with it?  Bob mentioned your sister ran away.  What about the others?

Jim: Mike was in the Navy, and he was probably the most distant.  He was leading his own life, had come to know the Lord in the Navy, and then Dave – Dave just worked hard.  Dave just wanted to keep the family together.  He was the nurturer.  I remember, when we talked about breaking up, because the social worker said, "Listen, there's two options.  You can stay here at the Reals," at the point where Mr. Real accused me of trying to murder him, the social worker said, "We've got two options.  You can all stay here and hunker down, or we can break you apart into different foster care."

And I remember, I didn't know what the word "hunker down" meant, but I remember thinking, I like hunker down, let's hunker down.  And Dave was right there.  Dave said, "Well, let's stay together, we've got to stay together."  So that was his goal, and he really nurtured all of along that way. 

And then, Dee, Dee I think was just lost in it all.  She's probably the most kindhearted person in the family, but she was the forgotten one, and she was the last to know the Lord here in the last couple of years.

Dennis: You speak of all that damage, and specifically how you ended up reconciling yourself to your father?  That was a big deal?

Jim: Huge, because I remember when we got the call that he had died, and I lived with him for a year.  After the Reals, my dad showed up.  He was trying to track us down, so we moved back with my father, Denise and I, as the two kids under 18.  We moved back in with my dad, and it was one of those things– for the listeners that come out of an alcoholic home, it was, like, Dad/Dad, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  You know, I didn't what dad I was going to get.

And we moved in for that year and, generally, it was pretty good, but there were the binges, the drinking scenes.  I remember playing Little League in 6th grade when we lived with him in San Gabriel, California, and we're there at the Little League park, and he came up, and he was drunk, and it was just so embarrassing, because he was just slurring things, as I got up to bat – "There's my boy," and I remember just going back to the dugout and kind of tucking that hat down over my eyes and – it still chokes me up because it was just so embarrassing.  I didn't want to be there.

And, you know, so at the end of the year when my sister turned 18, we got the kids together, "What are we going to do with Jimmy?  What do you want to do?"  I said, "I don't think I should live with Dad anymore," and they said, "Okay, you've got to tell him."  (laughs)  So we had a family meeting, and I told my dad, "I don't want to live with you anymore, Dad."

Dennis: You were how old at this point?

Jim: Eleven.  And he left that day with my brother, Mike, and they moved to Reno, Nevada, and within a year he died, and I never really talked much with him again.

Dennis: Bob and I have worked together for several years, more than he cares to remember, at this point, Jim, but I'm sure more than once in this discussion that we've had here, that he has thought about another interview we did and another friend who has visited us on more than one occasion – Josh McDowell.

And just listen to a boy who grew up in a home where this was not the way it was intended, but how Josh, like you, met the Savior, and somehow experienced not only forgiveness of his own sin but was able to forgive others and strip away the shackles of, really, the evil that was done to him and, like you have illustrated here, what was done to you.  And I just think it's a bittersweet story.  This ought not to have happened, but what a profound look at the Gospel.  Think of where you'd be today without Jesus Christ.  You'd be a mess.

Jim: A total mess.

Dennis: I mean, what would be your hope in life if you didn't know the forgiveness of God through Christ?  Have you ever thought about that?

Jim: Oh, I have, and I don't linger on that because fortunately the Lord reached in and snatched all five of the kids out of that mess.  I mean, that's what's amazing to me, as well, that the Lord had enough mercy there for the whole family.  You know, that each of us found Him in a different way at a different time.

And I think, you know, Dennis, that is the redemption of our Lord.  That's the message.  We don't have to live in that muck.  He is there to give us a different path, a much more abundant life, where we don't have to live in those sorrows and those pains and those regrets.  I just – I so appreciate the Lord and all that He's done in our family.

Dennis: I would think.

Jim: He has released us in every way.

Dennis: Absolutely.

Jim: And the kids – everything is broken, you know, the whole generational thing.  All the kids now that are part of our family, that next generation, most are Christian, most are living far better lives than we ever could.

Bob So the stake in the ground got planted, and the Bible uses the metaphor of beauty for ashes, and that's what you've been given by God's grace.

Dennis: Making a roadway in the desert.

Jim: Yes.

Dennis: Streams in the desert, too, as well.

Jim: Absolutely.  And you know the other thing, too, I'm just thinking about really living for the Lord and what that means.  You know, someone said the other day to me, "It's not secular humanism that is the greatest threat to America, it's shallow Christianity."

Dennis: Oh, it is.

Bob That's right.

Dennis: Apathetic Christianity.

Jim: Apathetic, and this is – you know, we're living it.  The Lord has bought us for a price.  This life that I've led is not mine, it's God's.  And so even all the kids – we've gotten together occasionally, and we would say, "If it had to happen the same way so that we could all come to know the Lord, let it be so."

Dennis: That's tough stuff, though.

Jim: I know, but, man, I'm telling you from my heart, it's true.  And, you know, because this life is a vapor, it's so fast.  Think of eternity – and if those lessons aren't learned, if we didn't learn those things, those knotholes, if we didn't go through it, what if I still was that spoiled child without any boundaries?

Dennis: What a wasted life.

Jim: Yeah, but the Lord is there to say, "There's another way."  You've got to say, "I'm going to walk with you as best I can."

Bob You know, as you talk about that being the ultimate issue in life and even the pain is worth it if that's what it takes to get you on that path, I immediately thought of Dr. Dobson and the conversation he had with Ryan, and he just faced death square in the face, and he said, "Ryan, look, nothing matters except that you be there."

Dennis: Yeah, this vapor is going to be over, and it's whether or not we've taken Jesus Christ at His Word, and He is the one who said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father but through me," and there has to be a person listening right now who has either grown up in that background and just needs to shed the shackles, strip themselves of the past and all that baggage, and receive the redemption and the offer of Christ. 

And I just want to say to you, if you're there, Jim Daly came face-to-face with Jesus Christ and decided to take Him at His Word and receive forgiveness so he could forgive, and it's a faith transaction.  It's a relational transaction, it's not playing church, it's an encounter with the Living God, and if you've never made that decision, right now, I'd just encourage any listener who needs to receive Christ right now and turn away from their past, Christ forgives all, and He cleanses all.  Take Him at His Word.

Bob And He transforms lives, that's the transformation business we've been talking about today.

Dennis: It is.

Bob It's what you've experienced, Jim, in your life, and we just want to encourage listeners – if you've never acknowledged Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you can do that today by simply praying, asking Him to come in and take control of your life and to be your Lord, to be your Master.

There is a book we'd love to send you that's called "Pursuing God," that can explain to you what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and how that relationship begins and how it is sustained.  If you'd like a copy of the book, "Pursuing God," we'll be happy to send it to you at no cost when you call us at 1-800-FLTODAY to request it.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  Just call and say, "I want to know what it means to be a Christian.  I want to know how I can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ," and we'll be happy to send you a copy of the book, "Pursuing God," at no cost.

That's also the same number you would call if you're interested in getting a copy of Jim Daly's book, which is called "Finding Home," and it's a compelling story of how God has worked through what was, for you, a harrowing childhood in the Los Angeles suburbs to bring you to the place where you are today as period to Focus on the Family.

We have copies of the book, "Finding Home" available and, as I mentioned, you can call to request a copy or, if you'd like, you can go online at  On the right side of the home page, you'll see a button that says "Today's Broadcast," and if you click where it says "Learn More," in that box, it will take you to an area of the site where there is more information about Jim's book.  You can order a copy of the book online, if you'd like.  Again, the home page is, and we hope you get in touch with us and get a copy of the book "Finding Home" by Jim Daly.

And then this month I wanted to mention to our listeners, we are sending those of you who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation, we're sending you, upon request, a CD that features a message from pastor and author, Stu Weber.  Stu is a former Army Ranger and was a Green Beret, fought in Vietnam, he now pastors a church in suburban Portland, Oregon, and this particular message is straight talk, man-to-man, about what it means to be a man.

We call the message "Applied Masculinity," and Stu gives us a great picture in this message of what it means to be a man in balance, and what it looks like when a man gets out of balance, as well.  We are happy to send this CD to you as our way of saying thank you when you help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  We are listener-supported, and your donations are what keep us on the air on this station and on other stations all across the country.  We very much appreciate your partnership with us.

If you'd like to receive a copy of this CD when you make a donation online at, you will see a keycode box.  We need you to type the word "Stu" in that keycode box – s-t-u – that way we'll know to send a copy of the CD out to you or, if you'd prefer, you can call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation over the phone and, again, just ask for the CD that we're offering this month on manhood, and we'll get it delivered to you.  Thanks, again, for your partnership with us and your support of the ministry.

Now, tomorrow, we're going to continue to hear more of Jim Daly's story including how Jim met his wife and about their engagement, their courtship, and how they got married.  That's coming up tomorrow.  I hope you can with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow. 


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Episodes in this Series

Growing In Your Faith Day 3
Finding a New Life in Christ
with Jim Daly June 4, 2008
On today's broadcast, Dennis Rainey talks with Jim Daly, president and CEO of Focus on the Family and author of the book Finding Home, about the tragic events that shaped his life and his faith.
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Growing In Your Faith Day 1
Early Setbacks
with Jim Daly June 2, 2008
Today on the broadcast, Jim Daly, president and CEO of Focus on the Family, tells Dennis Rainey about the tragedies that marked his childhood and left him longing for stability and peace.
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00:00 00:00